Ask This, Not That: Interview Strategies to Improve your Hiring

Julie Checknita, Employer Services | April-11-12


Interview Strategies to Improve your Hiring

Tell me about yourself. Why do you want to work for us? Can you work under pressure? If you have ever interviewed or been interviewed, you have likely encountered these common questions.

What’s the problem? Sticking to general, expected questions will increase the odds of receiving rehearsed, contrived answers. In a mere few seconds, one can run a quick search to find hundreds of blogs, and articles teaching candidates how to answer common interview questions. Candidates will likely be answering these questions before you’re even done asking them, and will probably know and tell you exactly what you want to hear.

So how do you really dig for credible information and get a clearer sense of how prospective candidates think, act and perform? Ask new questions – ask questions that get candidates to think on their feet. Present the candidate with a challenge or work situation, and ask them to walk you through how they would react or how they would solve the problem. A recent blog from gave some great examples of ways to re-word some of the most common interview questions to really get those candid, telling answers you need. Here they are:

ASK THIS: Tell me one specific thing you’ll improve here.

Let them show their knowledge of their field and your company…as well as their guts. Can the developer-to-be tell you a better way to organize you database? Does your future marketing director hate your ad copy, backed up by a tangible way to improve it? Better yet, are they willing to vocalize it? It also tells you that they see potential in your mission and have the spirit to suggest improvements and drive towards success.

NOT THAT: What do you know about our company?

This only tells you that they know how to work the Google machine. Ask specific questions like the one above that are predicated on them doing a bit of research previously. A lack of preparation will still stick out like a sore thumb, and you’ll learn something other than that their homepage is Google. Aside from search engine knowledge, there’s a fantastically small room for variance between “Impressed with their research” and “They might have gone through our trash.”

ASK THIS: You have to start a business tomorrow. What does it do? Why will it succeed?

A good answer here will tell you not only where they see themselves as experts, leaders, or innovators, but where their true passions lie. This is one question we can guarantee they won’t be expecting: the quickness and certainty of their answer lets you know how often they engage with their passions or entrepreneurial spirit.

NOT THAT: Where do you see yourself in five years?

Come on.  ”As the CEO, because I’m awesome?” There’s no way to answer this question honestly and accurately. While this might not be a horrible thing with other subjects, this particular question has been so well-rehearsed by most applicants that you probably won’t get a telling answer by asking it. Here’s a good rule: if you can answer the question yourself — off the top of your head — try to twist it into something better.

ASK THIS: Walk me through the last time you had to meet a do-or-die deadline.

Previous emotions from a stressful event are usually tough to hide in the future. How do they answer this question? You want them to walk you through a challenge they solved through confident action and quality work, not something they still marvel at surviving, as if it were miraculous. Bonus points for a project that really changed the company, or better yet, the entire marketplace.

NOT THAT: Are you comfortable working under pressure?

This is another one to file under “Give me a break”.  Is anyone going to look you in the face and say no? Of course not! They want the job, they know the answer, and you’re asking to get whitewashed with this interview classic.

ASK THIS: What was your favorite thing about _______, and why did you leave?

Just like #1, this is another great way to get down to business more quickly than the typical interview question. Look for parallels between their answer and your company. Were they inspired by the business-formal workplace? Probably not the person to hire for your seed-stage startup. This question accomplishes the same “minesweeper” goals as the more typical one below: it’s just as likely to uncover big successes or bad blood.

NOT THAT: Tell me about your time at ________.

This will almost always be a nearly word-for-word recital of their resume. You already know it! Expect more interesting answers from your applicants and give them the questions they need to deliver.

ASK THIS: Why should I hire you over everyone else who applied?

Let them pick the strongest tools from their toolbox to present to you. The long-forgotten screwdriver at the bottom doesn’t matter, but that big honkin’ hammer will make a real impact on your team. How do they define themselves? Plus, this allows them show you their drive to get the job. How hard are they willing to sell their potential? And, ultimately, is their case successful?

NOT THAT: So, tell me about yourself.

If you ask them to tell you about themselves, chances are you’ll get a summary of their resume or something very similar. But you know this information already, or they wouldn’t be sitting across from you. Don’t waste time when you can learn something more important more quickly with another question. Avoid such generalized and open-ended questions as a rule.




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